The first clue the strawberries were ripe was usually the scent of crushed berries.
When you spent as much time as we did camping and hiking in the Rocky Mountains west of Calgary, strawberry season was one of the things we always looked forward to.
Anticipation always lasted for a couple of weekends, sometimes three before the tiny red morsels of sweetness were ready to pick.
The distinctive leaves were the first sign the plants were coming back from a winter buried under snowdrifts. Usually we found the first ones in open meadows in the middle of a Douglas Fir forest in Kootenay National Park. We had a favorite campsite there, and a hike to a beaver pond usually gave us the first sightings of tiny green leaves working their way up between fresh green grass sprouts.
The next weekend, we would find the ones clustered around the bottom of massive rough barked firs in the humus of dead needles shed from drooping branches. Mom would always tell us to be careful where we put our feet. Not one of us wanted to crush one of the berries when it was such a treat to pluck them from between the tiny white flowers blooming all around. Each flower promising another delicate treat for us to pick.
Inevitably one of us would step on a plant the the tangy scent would give away the location of the first ripe red fruit. Dropping into a crouch, the hunt was on and on the first weekend, not one went into an improvised basket to take back to camp. Our hats stayed on our heads, and the berries popped into our mouths, straight from the ground hugging plants without the benefit of cleaning them like you do fruit from the store. Nothing compares to fresh from the plant wild strawberries, unless it's the raspberries you find in late August hoping a bear hasn't beat you to them first.